The following text is an abridged and edited transcript of the above video.
Air permits are issued to a specific process and/or piece of equipment. As part of a permit application, you must also prepare an engineering evaluation, which includes such details as the piece of equipment or process that you’d like to permit, the make and the model, the emissions, the material and process flow, and the concentrations of the materials and/or chemicals used in the process/equipment.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will review all this information to determine whether or not the piece of equipment can comply with applicable regulations. In doing so, the SCAQMD will impose permit conditions on the face of the permit to ensure that the piece of equipment or process complies with any applicable regulations.
Air Permits and Rule 203 [1:56]
These conditions, which must be adhered to at all times, are determined by the information provided in your engineering evaluation and are then enforced by SCAQMD Rule 203(b), which states:
The equipment or agricultural permit unit shall not be operated contrary to the conditions specified in the permit to operate.
Such a permit condition might read something like this:
OPERATION OF THIS EQUIPMENT SHALL BE CONDUCTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH ALL DATA AND SPECIFICATIONS SUBMITTED WITH THE APPLICATION UNDER WHICH THIS PERMIT IS ISSUED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED BELOW.
That condition appears on almost every single permit issued by the SCAQMD.
The information that you submit when you apply for your permit is very important for two reasons:
- The SCAQMD needs that information in order to process your application.
- Your process or piece of equipment must be operated consistent with the information that you submit in your permit application.
The second piece is subtle — which is why a lot of people miss it. That’s also why it’s one of the more commons causes behind problems within an environmental compliance program.
Process Changes and Rule 203 [05:37]
Facilities often make a process modification — whether it be to operate more efficiently, to conserve materials, lower raw material cost, increase yield, or increase product quality. Whatever the reason, it becomes a problem if the change is contrary to the information that was initially submitted to the SCAQMD because you would no longer be compliant with Rule 203.
This type of situation is fairly subtle when it comes to implementing and running an environmental program, but it’s very important nonetheless. Here are three tips on how you can address — and maybe even prevent — such a problem.
Tip 1: Keep Records of Your Communications With the SCAQMD [8:04]
If you don’t already have good records or you weren’t the one communicating with the SCAQMD regarding the permit, you can ask to review such documents, including emails, letters, or even the permit application itself. You can even speak with any staff who may have spoken to the district, either during the application process or since.
We understand that organizations are very complex. There are multiple channels of communication, and not everyone who should be looped in always is. That’s why a good practice is to maintain a central repository of all the information that was communicated to the district. Keep copies of emails, past permit applications, notes from phone calls, etc., so that the information can be easily found down the road. The past permit applications are the most important since they contain all the information communicated to the district regarding how you planned to operate this piece of equipment or process.
Every organization experiences attrition. People move, leave, and get promoted all the time. Even those who stay can forget to record a communication with the SCAQMD. It’s not uncommon to know that a permit application was submitted to the district, but now the application can’t be found. But that can be solved by filing a public-records request directly with the SCAQMD. When you file your request, include the application number related to the permit in question. This is not widely known, but the SCAQMD uses a permit number plus an application number. The permit number usually starts with a letter. Depending on the age of the permit, it could be A, B, C, D, or F. The application number, on the other hand, is five digits and starts with a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
Anytime you reference a permit to the SCAQMD, you should reference the application number as opposed to the permit number. When you fill out these public records request, you’ll use that application number. The folks in the public records department will go over to the district’s database, pull that file, scan it, and send you an email with all the information related to that permit.
And then you’ll have a goldmine of info, because the files from the public records department usually contain a copy of the permit application and a copy of the district’s notes from when they processed it. Sometimes, it contains details related to a site walk-through done to issue the permit. Other times, it has contact reports, faxes, and copies of emails. It’s a very, very good data set to have — especially if you’re starting with nothing.
Tip 2: Ensure Interdepartmental Communication When Instituting a Process Change [15:16]
Always ensure that the folks operating the process and/or piece of equipment check with all relevant parties and departments before any changes are made. This is important for two reasons:
- When it comes to operations or maintenance, their thinking may not be the same as that of the environmental folks. That’s not their fault — they have a different job and so are apt to think different, particularly since environmental regulations may not be their top concern. (That’s why you’re there.) So ensure that communication flows between your department and theirs, and let them know that they need to check with you before any changes are instituted. In fact, they could save a lot of time and hassle if they check when the process change is still just a budding idea. So be sure they invite you to any meetings so you can advise them on Rule 203. During these meetings, you should know exactly what was communicated to the district about this piece of equipment, either from public records request, emails, letters, phone calls, or other records.
- Operations or maintenance may not even know what the permit application contains. What we’ve typically experienced is that when you do a process change, you then go through a management of change (MOC) process, which involves examining the environmental impact related to the process change. This process depends on how your MOC program is set up. You could ask: Is this process change going to cause more waste? Is it going to use more water? What kinds of emissions are going to come out of it? But the most important question to ask is: Will this change require permitting? Permitting is always required when what you originally told the district changes.
Tip 3: Understand the Process [20:17]
As an environmental compliance professional, you not only need to know environmental regulations but also the process and how the process works. That means you have to be a process engineer in addition to an environmental compliance professional. To me, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing what I do: We also get to learn about the process and put on our Process Engineer hat.
Understanding the relationship between the process and the environmental impact takes a bit of work because you have to look at each of the materials used in the process and determine how each will impact the environment. What kind of emissions does it create? What do the regulations say about this?
For example, if you raise the temperature, will the vapor pressure go up? Will that increase in vapor pressure cause a change in emissions? Every process is different and complex in and of itself, so you have to really think critically about how things relate.
Let’s say the operations manager tells you, “We’re thinking of changing the temperature on line 43 to improve product quality and we’re going to use more of this material, which has a higher vapor pressure.” As an environmental professional, you need to listen closely so that you can then ask questions about how that change relates to the environmental impact — in this case, the air emissions. You then need to let all involved parties know that this will require a review of Rule 203 to see if you’ll be able to stay in compliance.
Anytime you have a permit, it’s important to know what was communicated to the district related to that permit. You also want to stay on top of any process changes that are lined up — or even just being talked about — so that you can determine how that process change will impact the information previously communicated to the district.
Sometimes, you may need to file a permit modification for a process change, and the project manager needs to know about this modification. And if you can’t find the proper files to determine if the process change will put you in violation of Rule 203, you can always request them from the SCAQMD.